Class warfare goes on vacation in Molly Smith Metzler's one-act comedy, which gets its local premiere under Steve Scott's direction at Redtwist. Scott's solid cast invests in the rather obvious conflicts with relish, nailing the laugh lines with reliable skill. But the show feels a bit like bingeing on salt water taffy: You may chew your way through to the end and wonder why you bothered to spend so much time and effort on a concoction that delivers less flavor than its bright surface hue promises.
Metzler, whose play premiered at the 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., takes on some of the same territory of class resentment plumbed to great effect by David Lindsay-Abaire in "Good People." But where Abaire rooted his characters in believable anguish, Metzler mostly opts for cartoon-bright outlines for her story of two siblings caught up in the world of the very rich and (seemingly) very shallow.
Devon (Carley Moseley), a social worker scraping by on kitchen work at Olive Garden and sleeping on a beanbag chair in mom's Buffalo basement, has joined little sister Simone (Elizabeth Argus) for some belated birthday celebrating at the luxurious estate of Simone's employers, Peter and Michaela, the latter of whom keeps Simone on 24-hour call as a personal assistant.
Simone, an aspiring novelist, has sacrificed literature for Lilly Pulitzer frocks (much mocked by the flannel-and-denim clad Devon) and an affair with upper-class twit Ethan (Michael Sherwin), who sports spiky bronze highlights and the pink — excuse me, salmon — trousers favored by the nonworking group in the flashy dog show that is life on Martha's Vineyard for a chosen few.
The arrival of the histrionic Michaela (Jacqueline Grandt), who fears that she is about to be knocked off the trophy-wife shelf, sets in motion a series of conflicts that include the lugubrious caretaker Jos-B (Johnny Garcia), so called because they already had a Jose on staff. (Think about it for second.) But too much of the action here feels contrived.
Sherwin has a ball as Ethan, whose principles are as thin as onionskin, but it's hard to imagine even anyone as desperate for creature comforts as Simone falling for his shtick. Grandt goes all-out with Michaela, from the harpy shrieking about white hydrangeas after Labor Day to the wounded woman whose own sacrifice has come back to kick her in the teeth.
And Moseley, who impressed me most recently in Redtwist's "Clybourne Park" as the hearing-impaired Betsy, nails the mix of contempt and envy that Devon feels at being trapped in the world of the 1 percent. But not even her finely calibrated performance can quite overcome the nagging sensation that Metzler has essentially set up a carnival shooting-gallery game rather than a truly thoughtful analysis of the widening gap between the have-mores and the never-hads.
Through Jan. 12, Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.; $25-$30 at 773-728-7529 or redtwist.org
"Tell Me When It Hurts"
It's always nice to see a company dedicating resources to producing new work by local writers. But in the case of Three Cat Productions, one wishes they had found a worthier candidate than Lisa Scott's limp stab at romantic whimsy, "Tell Me When It Hurts."
Scott's play concerns Dr. Guy Better (Alex Fthenakis) and his nurse, Kit Smart (Amy Dellagiarino), on a night when their night clinic (recently demoted from a hospital) must handle a distraught woman who keeps quoting "Othello" and a cross-dressing thespian, all while Nurse Smart tries to fix the X-ray machine. I'm sorry — I meant the "radiant energy apparatus," which the be-goggled and roller-skating Smart hopes to transform into a machine that, rather like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," could eradicate pain through "the compression of traumatic memories."
Through it all, an unnecessary (though occasionally charming) narrator, Admiral D.O.G. (Matthew J. Lloyd), delivers chunks of philosophical exposition. Oh, and he also plays the imaginary dog that Better and Smart have created and to whom they are inordinately attached.
Jason Paul Smith's high-energy staging goes for a steampunk aesthetic, aided by Smith's own costumes and the set and prop pieces of Pat Henderson and John Buranosky, respectively. But Scott never lets us know where in the world we are or why we should care about characters who are little more than a collection of irksome quirks.
Through Dec. 21, Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan Road; $25 at 312-970-9840 or threecatproductions.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun